Science used Bible as foundation for theories

Didn’t Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo prove the Bible is wrong by showing that the earth revolves around the sun?

No. The misconception that these great men of science were in conflict with the Scripture is common today.  Unfortunately, misinformation about this conflict has caused some to further the lie that science is in disagreement with Scriptural Christianity.  Ironically, when we examine the lives and the words of these men we see that they were pioneers in science because of their beliefs not in spite of them.

The idea that the earth revolves around the sun is called heliocentricism.  In the sixteenth century Copernicus proposed the idea that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun.  Later in Germany Johannes Kepler built on this foundation to conclusively demonstrate the heliocentrisity of the solar system.  Most famous in this conflict of science and religiosity is Galileo Galilei.  He was forced by the institutional church of the day to renounce his teaching of Copernicus and spent the last years of his life under house arrest because of them.

Were these men proposing an idea that is in conflict with the Bible?  By examining their lives and their words we can see that they were not in conflict with the Bible but, instead, they used it as a foundation for their science.

Nicholas Copernicus said, “The universe has been wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator.”  Copernicus anticipated the conflict when he wrote, “…there are certain ‘idle talkers’ who take it upon themselves to pronounce judgment, although wholly ignorant of mathematics, and if by shamelessly distorting the sense of some passage of Holy Writ to suit their purpose, they dare to reprehend and to attack my work; they worry me so little that I shall even scorn their judgments as foolhardy…”

Emphasizing his servitude toward God Kepler wrote, “Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not to the glory of our minds, but rather above all else, to the glory of God.” 

In the midst of conflict Galileo wrote that the Copernican system was devised by a “pious Catholic who…did not ignore the Bible, but knew very well that if the doctrines were proved, then they would not contradict the Scriptures when rightly understood.”  He made it clear that his view of the authority of Scripture was firm: “The Holy Bible can never speak untruth—whenever its true meaning is understood.”  Furthermore he said, “God is known…by Nature in His works, and by doctrine in His revealed word.”

Why, then, is there such a common misunderstanding about their view of Scripture?  Some claim that teaching heliocentricism is in conflict with Ecclesiastes 1:5.  Ecclesiastes 1:5 says, “Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises again.”  Skeptics say this shows an error in the Bible since we know the earth revolves around the sun.  Also, the church used this argument in Galileo’s day causing a lengthy trial and undue punishment.  Thus, unfortunately, the trial has been misrepresented and used as a weapon against the Biblical Christianity to this day.  The problem has been with those that claim this verse teaches an astronomical model.  This is absurd because weathermen use this phraseology today.  We understand what they mean when they give us the time of sunrise and sunset and do not claim they are being unscientific.  What those in the church failed to understand in Galileo’s time was relativity.  Relative to the earth the sun was rising and setting.  For example, if you were holding a Coke can in you hand in a car moving 60 mph then relative to yourself the can would not be moving.  However, if I saw you drive by and saw the can then it would be moving 60 mph relative to where I was standing. 

Ecclesiastes 1:5 was not the only stumbling block the institutional church had with Galileo.  They were upset that his teachings were in conflict with Aristotle and Ptolemy.  The conventional scientific wisdom of the day taught a “geocentric system.”  That is, they taught that the earth was the center of the universe and the “heavenly bodies” orbit around the earth. Thus, the error of the church was relying on the words of men instead of the words of God.  This shows us the harmful effects when anyone, and especially those in the church, hold so tightly to the “traditions of men.”

Likewise, today the conventional scientific wisdom of the day is presented in conflict with the Bible.  The answer to resolving this conflict today is the same as it was then.  By reading the Bible in its literary and historic context we can understand that the Bible is scientifically reliable and trustworthy in every area of study. 

9/16/00
Page 33

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©Tom Carpenter
Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen